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Summer Olympics: Swimming history and changes throughout the years

Swimming events have been contested since the first modern Olympic Games and at each Olympic Games since. Originally, only men competed in the events, but by 1912, women found their way into competition.
1896: Swimming is Contested at the First Modern Olympic Games

Iconic swimmer Dawn Fraser of Australia
Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images

The 1896 Olympic Games featured four swimming events for men. Those events included the 100-meter freestyle, 500-meter freestyle, 1,200-meter freestyle and 100-meter freestyle for sailors. Alfréd Hajós of Hungary won both the 100 freestyle and the 1,200 freestyle, while Paul Neumann of Austria won the 500 freestyle. Ioannis Malokinis of Greece won the 100 freestyle for sailors.

At the 1900 Olympic Games, the 200-meter freestyle, 1,500-meter freestyle, and 4,000-meter freestyle were contested. In addition, an underwater swimming event was held, as was a 200-meter obstacle event and 200-meter team swimming event. The 200-meter backstroke also made its debut. In 1904, the first breaststroke event was contested at a distance of 440 yards.

1912 Olympic Games: Women's swimming is included
The event shuffle continued until the 1912 Olympic Games, when women's swimming was included in the event schedule. In 1912, women swam in the 100 freestyle and the 4x100-meter freestyle events. Fanny Durack of New Zealand won the 100 freestyle, while the team from Great Britain won the 4x100 freestyle.

1956: Butterfly events are first contested at the Olympic Games
As the popularity of swimming began to grow, more and more events were introduced to the Olympic program. In the 1940s, breaststroke swimmers discovered that they could swim the races more quickly with an over-the-water recovery during the arm stroke. This type of swimming was soon outlawed in breaststroke races, but it did give rise to the butterfly stroke.

At the 1956 Olympic Games, butterfly races were the only new events added to the Olympic program. On the men's side, the 200-meter butterfly was added, while the women competed in the 100-meter butterfly.

Swimming at the Olympic Games today
Additional swimming events have been added throughout the years, with the most recent addition coming at the 2008 Olympic Games. There, men's and women's 10-kilometer open water races were added.

In total, 34 events — 17 for men and 17 for women — were contested at the 2012 Olympic Games. More than 900 athletes competed, and each country was able to send two qualified athletes in each event, while only one relay team could represent each nation.

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